The hot team, or the tempered one?

Posted Feb. 05, 2011 @ 3:23 p.m.
Posted By Tom Danyluk

DALLAS — The winter offensive. The history pages are vivid in their descriptions. Christmas Eve cold, January ice ... shortages, draining armies to a halt. At Valley Forge, it was worn soles and empty flasks and small coal fires. Prayers for an early thaw ... but survivors.

Others collapsed in rubble ... General Paulus and the German 6th, overextended and running dry on fuel at the Stalingrad outskirts. Casualties buried in snow, frozen in their last known positions.

Joe Gibbs, a coach with three rings, said it: "The character of your team is revealed in December."

The Green Bay Packers have launched their own winter campaign; it's been a mighty one. In December they stood at 8-6, wounded and teetering. Then, the call to mobilize. They're unbeaten ever since, and they've collected believers along the way.

The '07 Giants were such a team, the late sizzle that everyone expected to cool — right through the fourth quarter of that Super Bowl against unbeaten New England, as they gunned and surged downfield for the winning points. The '07 Giants never cooled off.

Nor did Pittsburgh in 2005 — same journey, limping along at 7-5 then the sudden eight-game burst to win it all in sleety Detroit.

Are these Packers of the same thread, in this version of the push, their quarterback lifting his game nearly every mile of the way? Only the Steelers, a thin but hardened club, remain in their path.

I'm convinced the Green Bay surge climaxed two weeks ago, dying out in the gusts of Chicago. The Packer touchdown drives came swiftly and early, a direct carryover from their shock performance in Atlanta the week before. The Bear defenders were taking cover, lightning bursts hurling from the sky.

Then Chicago stabilized. Its cover men found their legs, its linebackers made the right drops, and the only remaining Green Bay threat of the afternoon was killed off by a Brian Urlacher interception.

Even prior to the helmet shot from Julius Peppers, in the third quarter, Aaron Rodgers was out of sync and dialing up wrong numbers. Can't credit the Chicago pass rush for that — there was none.

Now he faces a Steeler defense with one apparent weakness — in-close pass coverage. After the Patriots murdered Pittsburgh in Week 10, the media ran with the theme — dice up the Steelers short, quick throws, lots of them. Dick LeBeau has no answer for it! His corners and extra DBs are sickly; they give ground and play back to survive.

What failed to register with these geniuses is that the Pats' strategy worked only because Tom Brady was making those throws. One of the most pinpoint deliveries in history ... snappy, true, with minimal mistakes. It was like a carnival game, Brady with an armful of plush toys. Most teams don't have that luxury.

Green Bay, with the blooming Rodgers, might. I suspect they'll go at Pittsburgh early in a similar style, the tight routes, forcing McFadden and Gay and Taylor and Madison to work closer to the line of scrimmage. If Rodgers is on, he'll pry open some operating room that will loosen things downfield. And that's where the Green Bay attack has conducted its real damage.

But the gnat attack style is not in Rodgers' DNA. It appeals to certain throwers ... Brady, the accurate old Raider Rich Gannon, Montana ... but Rodgers is no cat burglar. He prefers the big heist, plundering the vaults in big, greedy chunks.

But those plays require a longer pocket to develop. Which introduces the Steeler pass rush to the equation, and now we're talking about a whole different set of problems. A hurried throw or tipped pass, maybe one of those ends up in Pittsburgh hands. Then the Steelers' Valley Forge hardening can begin exerting its influence on the game.

I heard Pat Summerall, the great CBS man, say it the other day. Someone stuck a mic on him down there in the Jerry World media circus, and he kept it simple.

"Pittsburgh wins — the best team Green Bay's faced all year." The difference — Steeler toughness.

Toughness ... what the hell does that really mean? It's become a throwaway word. Everybody's tough in pro ball. It's more than just toughness. It's when it's applied.

The Steelers, a platoon of roughnecks all year round. They're geared for these high-level battles in July. I like them over a team that suddenly burns hot ... that waits until snowfall to fire up its engines. 

Prediction: Steelers 26 , Packers 13

 

Tom Danyluk is an award-winning freelance writer based in Chicago. His book on pro football, "The Super '70s," is available at Amazon.com. You can contact Tom at Danyluk1@yahoo.com.